Background: Participatory decision-making (PDM), a widely held ideal, depends on physician facilitation of patient participation. However, little is known about how PDM facilitation is actualized in outpatient primary care.
Objectives: The objective of this study was to describe the prevalence of physician facilitation of PDM in community family practices and associated physician, patient, and visit characteristics.
Research design: This was a cross-sectional observational study.
Subjects: The study included 3,453 patients seen by 138 family physicians in 84 community practices.
Main outcome measures: Research nurses directly observed PDM facilitation in consecutive adult outpatient visits. The association between PDM facilitation and patient, physician, and visit characteristics was assessed with multilevel multivariable regression.
Results: PDM facilitation occurred during 25% of observed patient visits. Rates varied considerably among physicians, from 0% to 79% of visits. Patient satisfaction was not associated with PDM facilitation. In multivariable analyses, employed physicians, chronic illness visits, longer visit duration, and visits involving referral were independently associated with PDM facilitation. Visits in which greater time was spent planning treatment and conducting health education were also more likely to involve facilitation of PDM.
Conclusions: Community family physicians facilitate PDM at highly variable rates but focus it on patients with the greatest medical needs and most complex levels of decision making. This selective approach appears to meet patient expectations, because PDM facilitation and patient satisfaction are not associated. If patient participation is to be more widely incorporated into outpatient primary care, it must be addressed within the complexity and multiple demands of community practice.